Thursday Grab Bag: Jewish Pyramid Conspiracies, Atheist Spirituality, and Bergier on Lovecraft
I have three brief topics for today.
An Alleged Jewish Pyramid Conspiracy
First, I don’t really have much to say about, but figure I should mention, yesterday’s story in the Jerusalem Post reporting claims by Egyptian heritage activist Amir Gamal that Israeli operatives are infiltrating archaeological teams in order to fabricate evidence that the Jews built the pyramids of Egypt. According to Gamal, the Israelis are plotting to identify Pharaoh Sheshonq I with the Biblical King Shishak (a rather common identification made long ago and supported by a stela at Megiddo) in order to claim the gold of Egypt as the Temple treasure stolen by Shishak during his invasion of Judah (2 Chronicles 12:9). Similar claims have popped up over the last few years, particularly after the fall of Pres. Hosni Mubarak and the ouster of Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass, largely due to nationalism and continued popular resentment over what many Egyptians and Islamists see as the country’s too-friendly relationship with Israel.
Sam Harris Finds Religion... of a Sort
Second, since I repeatedly discuss the way the ancient astronaut theory and even fringe archaeology have been overtaken by a quasi-spiritual quest for transcendence—whether through communion with space brothers, drug-fueled romps in the spirit dimension, or the discovery of the “truth” about Jesus and the sacred feminine—it is only right that I report that New Atheist Sam Harris has joined with them in declaring his newfound belief that spirituality is essential for a fulfilled life. According to a book review in this week’s eSkeptic, Harris has declared an idiosyncratic form of Buddhism essentially the one true scientific religion, praising Buddhism for its atheist spirituality and writing in favor of atheists adopting meditation techniques to achieve the negation of the self and contact with the true essence of consciousness beyond the illusion of the unified self. Harris’s version of Buddhism is apparently unique to him, and he is presenting himself as a spiritual guru for achieving transcendence.
I haven’t read the book and can’t comment on whether Harris makes a compelling case that such negation of the self is either rational or desirable (this would seem to be a value judgment since an argument could be made that preserving a sense of self is more fulfilling), but I find it fascinating that Harris achieves his results through the same combination of meditation and drug ingestion that Graham Hancock uses to enter the spirit dimension and meet with demons and angels. When people as diverse as lost civilization advocates, ancient astronaut theorists, and atheist activists are all working toward the same spiritual ends, it certainly must say something about a certain reaction occurring in our culture right now, one that I think is reflected also in the rise of evangelical Christianity and the creationist movement that so closely parallels fringe archaeology. It’s a cultural revitalization movement in embryo, struggling to find a new way to reconstruct the old pillars of culture.
I would challenge, incidentally, the idea that humans have an innate longing for spiritual transcendence. Some people might, but certainly not everyone, and the modern notion that individuals should have a special and individualized relation to the divine (or, for atheists, the transcendent non-self) is a rather recent phenomenon. Through most of recorded history, so far as we know religion was rather transactional (sacrifice X in order to receive Y), and in the past most religious rites were entrusted to specialists. Individuals in many societies had only an indirect relationship to “spirituality” as we think of it. I’m reading a book about medieval England right now that noted that during the six years of the interdict the pope imposed on England during the reign of King John there was not a single recorded complaint that mass had been suspended, or that anyone cared much for the supposed spiritual consequences of it. As I understand it, in the West the idea of having an ongoing and continuous individual relationship with the divine (as opposed to rare and extraordinary experiences more typical of Classical paganism) is a Protestant innovation, and the idea of the desirability of the individual achieving transcendence is still more recent.
Just as Harris earlier argued that middle class American morality was objectively correct and ordained by the laws of physics, he also seems to think that modern American notions of desirable and effective spiritual goals are also provable by neuroscience and physics. To the contrary, I think he is rationalizing culturally specific expressions of faith particular to the perceived needs of this time and this place.
Bergier’s Encounters with Lovecraft
Finally, I wanted to call your attention to a paragraph I’ve added to my article about Jacques Bergier, Louis Pauwels, and H. P. Lovecraft. As you will recall, one of the criticisms I’ve received about my Cult of Alien Gods is the claim that there is little evidence that Jacques Bergier’s and Louis Pauwels’s Morning of the Magicians was influenced by H. P. Lovecraft in the development of its version of the ancient astronaut theory. In the comments on a previous blog post, EP asked about Jacques Bergier’s letters to Weird Tales in the 1930s, and this prompted me to collect a bit more evidence that I did not previously have access to that demonstrates that Bergier wasn’t just familiar with Lovecraft prior to Morning of the Magicians but that Lovecraft shaped Bergier’s perception of ancient mysteries.
Here’s what I’ve added:
[Bergier] discovered the works of Lovecraft in Weird Tales at the Gibert-Joseph book store in the early 1930s, and two letters from him were published in Weird Tales in 1936 and 1937. The first praises Lovecraft and other weird authors for their work. The second makes plain the debt Bergier owed to Lovecraft for shaping his cosmic thinking: Lovecraft, he wrote in honor of the author's March 1937 death, "has been so well received in France, because he was crying out against the absurdity of a scientific civilization encroaching upon man. [...] The passing of Lovecraft seems to me to mark an end of an epoch in the history of American imaginative fiction." Both Bergier and Pauwels, inspired by Lovecraft's philosophy and vision, published some of the first French editions of Lovecraft's work. In 1955, Bergier published an edition of Lovecraft translated by Bernard Noël in which he included his own preface, titled (in French) "Lovecraft: The Great Genius from Elsewhere." This same piece was recycled later as the first story in Planetè, the magazine published by Pauwels and Bergier.
Bergier was a student of chemical engineering in the 1930s, but it was his reading of weird fiction in the 1930s that caused him to begin an interest in alchemy and thus ancient mysteries. In fact, according to Bergier himself, he took up the mantle of alchemy only in 1938--after he had already absorbed Weird Tales and decided Lovecraft was a genius, one whose vision would shape his own. This is why, in Morning, Bergier cites Lovecraft by name, calls him the father of science fiction, and declares him “the greatest poet and champion of the theory of parallel universes.” In 1975, describing how science fiction defined his worldview in life, Bergier all but paraphrased Lovecraft. Bergier stated (as I translate) that science fiction offers “victory over time, over space, over the hostility of the universe, victory gained through technique.” Compare that to Lovecraft, for whom weird fiction allowed him “to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law…” as he wrote in “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction.” Since we know Bergier considered Lovecraft a science fiction author, there can really be no question how much he owed to “the great genius” who shaped his conception of time, space, and—yes—ancient aliens.
9/11/2014 05:21:28 am
Thanks for your comments on Harris. I think you've just about nailed it. That said, I think the idea of personal transcendence is an old one that is commonly found among the Christian mystics. They would describe their personal transcendence and loss of the self as becoming "one with God," but the basic experience sounds the same.
9/11/2014 06:45:31 am
"claims by Egyptian heritage activist Amir Gamal that Jewish operatives are infiltrating archaeological teams in order to fabricate evidence that the Jews built the pyramids of Egypt."
9/11/2014 06:52:42 am
Point taken, and wording changed, though I'm not sure Gamal sees much of a difference.
9/11/2014 06:52:58 am
"in the West the idea of having an ongoing and continuous individual relationship with the divine (as opposed to rare and extraordinary experiences more typical of Classical paganism) is a Protestant innovation"
9/11/2014 07:21:44 am
Yes, indeed there have always been individuals who were religious specialists and devoted themselves to such matters of faith. As you note, the recent innovation is that this should extend beyond specialists to the general laity.
9/11/2014 07:20:54 am
>>>during the reign of King John there was not a single recorded complaint that mass had been suspended<<<
9/11/2014 07:29:42 am
Zahi Hawass was ousted?!?! Damn... I missed that tidbit despite following the Arab Spring fallout somewhat closely.
9/11/2014 07:44:11 am
If you want to buy Egyptian artifacts talk to Zahi.
9/11/2014 07:45:52 am
As a personal friend of Mubarak and a state official, Zahi was doomed whether it made sense to oust an archaeologist or not. You should hear George Noory complain about all the secret things he thinks Zahi stole from under the Sphinx that we'll never get to see now that he's not in charge of antiquities.
9/11/2014 07:54:14 am
I always found Hawass' enthusiasm and passion quite entertaining - despite his rough edges. Noory... not so much.
9/11/2014 08:27:57 am
I've always enjoyed Hawass's work, even when he's had to resort to appearing in questionable American television programs to get some exposure (See; Chasing Mummies).
9/11/2014 07:31:40 pm
Dr. Zahi Hawass is a hero and a legend and a true old-school pimp daddy.
9/12/2014 09:29:01 am
"His stalwart defense of Egyptian archeology and rejection of the fringe nutbaggery that dominates the tourist trade is rather refreshing. If the man could be a bit acerbic at times, I can understand why. It can't be an easy job trying to maintain a professional atmosphere in a field where so many people would rather denigrate the achievements of the people responsible for the sites under his purview."
9/13/2014 12:46:08 am
Hawass is a bad tempered, self aggrandizing, Jewish conspiracy spouting jerk who was disliked by most of his colleagues.
9/13/2014 11:25:38 am
I agree that Hawass's statements about Jews and Israel are factually false and morally problematic, but read in context they are not enough to condemn him as a "Jew-hater".
9/11/2014 07:29:44 am
"EP noted asked about"
9/11/2014 11:23:01 am
From the 1933 outline of Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson:
9/11/2014 09:07:13 am
I think you hit the nail on the head in the section about Sam Harris, when you talk about transcendence and how it's just not that important to everyone. It's quite presumptuous for him to claim that anyone who doesn't embrace this atheist spirituality is missing something.
9/11/2014 11:13:43 am
Addendum: Good for Sam Harris for doing something he finds fulfilling, though.
9/11/2014 11:24:08 am
Assuming he's not just trying to sell books...
9/11/2014 03:31:02 pm
So, self proclaimed atheist Sammy Harris has found hos own "spirituality"? Well, I fail to see how that is news. Yeah, I am an old heathen/pagan, and I would never follow Harris, Dawkins or any of the other "big name" atheists. Why? I left ALL religion because every religions lays down idiotic rules that must be followed. These so called "new atheists" are quite the same and if you want to think for yourself, control your own life, you cannot do that AND follow any of these clowns.
9/11/2014 04:05:18 pm
"YES, I do know that not all Buddhists are like those in Myanmar, but how many "common" people do?"
9/12/2014 04:12:42 pm
@EP, I have no idea who appointed you as arbiter of everything in the comment section here. You never let anybody make any comment without your additions. I never made any mention of being special in any way.
9/12/2014 05:56:06 pm
Perhaps I misunderstood your comment. Did you mean "how many *other* common people"? If so, then I apologize for the confusion, but you should have said what you meant. Besides, what I said was a light-hearted remark in no way meant to imply anything about your character or to compare you to myself or anybody else. I'm happy to clarify that, but you had no reason to read it into my comment.
9/11/2014 03:38:52 pm
Jason says: "As I understand it, in the West the idea of having an ongoing and continuous individual relationship with the divine (as opposed to rare and extraordinary experiences more typical of Classical paganism) is a Protestant innovation, and the idea of the desirability of the individual achieving transcendence is still more recent."
9/11/2014 05:01:37 pm
"People can be indwelt with the Holy Spirit of God, just as someone else can be indwelt with demons."
9/11/2014 06:21:30 pm
"God wants serious relationships with individuals, and He always has."
Not the Comte de Saint Germain
9/11/2014 07:26:19 pm
Jason's remarks may be exaggerated, but they do not strike me as entirely incorrect, partly because not long ago I read something along the same lines. It's from the blog of an ex-Catholic (John C. Durham) interested in religious studies, saying that Richard Dawkins has made faulty assumptions about religion based partly on his Protestant cultural background:
9/11/2014 07:37:48 pm
Jason's remarks contain no judgment of religion at all - neither explicit, nor implicit. Anyone who fails to see that fails basic reading comprehension.
9/12/2014 04:23:45 am
Yes, it may be true that Jason is not trying to condemn religion. But I think he is, and I think he tries to make fun of and make light of religion regularly, as part of his "thang." Don't you know by now that it is part of his "thang" as a skeptic to regularly and oh-so-smoothly make stabs at anything to do with a sincere faith in a real God?
9/12/2014 04:47:25 am
"Only a dumb ass would make fun of clean, renewable energy."
9/18/2014 08:59:48 am
EP --- Skepticism's set theory overlap with Atheism allows
9/11/2014 10:35:31 pm
Gunn, does the fact that you never rise to defend your faith against the one person here who actually does routinely level attacks on Christianity (666) while launching into tirades any time Jason even benignly mentions Christian belief ever strike you as hypocritical?
9/12/2014 04:31:16 am
Clint. You sound like a dumb ass, too. I told 666 that only a fool would take on that moniker. I might add that only a fool would bring to the world's attention the fact that someone is using a pen-name on a blog. Not that I care, but what special joy do you have in announcing to the world that my real name is Bob Voyles? Is Clint Knapp your real name...and what does it matter? I think most readers and contributors here use a screen name. My guess is that you might be a dumb ass. Just to be clear (Only Me...ha! ha!), I'm talking about those little donkey-like creatures...they don't seem to be very smart compared to people.
9/12/2014 04:39:29 am
I thought you real name was Lee White Fox :)
9/12/2014 05:54:33 am
You might notice yours is the only mention of your name on this entire page, and that I addressed you by your alias, Gunn. You might also notice that when honestly questioned and provided with a sound rebuttal of your evidence free of judgment, you are the one who decided to resort to name calling and declarations regarding other people's intelligence.
9/12/2014 10:07:07 am
Even I refrained from mentioning your real name out of respect for your choice. Even though you label your own photos with "Robert Voyles (also known as Gunn Sinclair)". Also, you keep linking to the website dedicated to your joke of a turbine and your pseudo-archaeological follies, where you use your real name. I'm confused why you're bringing this up.
9/14/2014 03:54:15 am
"I do not feel the need to hide behind a wall of anonymity to separate myself from my words and actions." - Mark Twain. (Not really.)
9/18/2014 09:18:53 am
I did much worse... like Mr. Steve StC i even put an ancestor's
9/11/2014 07:55:07 pm
9/11/2014 08:18:55 pm
Honestly, I'd chalk it up to desire for popularity/publicity at any cost more than anything. His narrow-mindedness is a byproduct of his extreme arrogance and equally extreme partisanship. As for the quality of his work, I'm unaware of anything he's written that neither has been done better by someone else nor is pretty lowbrow even by bestseller standards.
9/18/2014 09:26:46 am
With my luck I may be closer related to William McKinley
9/12/2014 09:30:20 am
He is not a good man.
9/12/2014 10:46:29 am
My understanding is that Hawass has indeed expressed strongly anti-Israeli sentiments and gone so in a way that is .
9/12/2014 05:42:42 pm
Sorry, first sentence should end with "and done so in a way that is unworthy of the man".
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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